A Difference of Opinion: Is stop-as-yield a good idea?

Editor’s note: We’re taking a little different approach to Charles Pelkey’s Explainer column this week, with duties shared by Charles and yours truly. I’d asked Charles previously if he would be willing to address the issue of stop-as-yield. To me, it seems a genius way of cutting out the biggest, most cancerous chunk of cycling scofflaw behavior. And I figured Charles would have some idea about the best way ordinary lazy citizens like you ‘n’ me could do a bit of cycling advocacy that might result in a law all cyclists would dig.

What I didn’t count on was he doesn’t like the idea. So he suggested we do a point/counterpoint.

You know what they say about not bringing a knife to a gun fight? Yeah, well no one talks about what happens when you show up with a pea shooter. I’m prepared to change my opinion once Charles has made his case. I’m not looking forward to that because I really like the idea of stop-as-yield. I take first at-bat.
Padraig

Point: I like the idea of stop-as-yield. Why? Easy. I live in a place where our population density has risen dramatically in the last 15 years. The number of stop signs I encounter when I head out for a ride has more than doubled what it was when I moved here. The number of stop lights has risen noticeably as well. I like to think of myself as a pragmatist. There’s never going to be a scenario in which some variety of running stop lights will be acceptable. But because there are a couple of places (yeah, I think exactly two) where cyclists are allowed to treat a stop sign as a yield if no other traffic is present seems a genius idea.

Because you’re a cyclist, I really don’t need to sell you on this idea. It’s like sex. It sells itself. Not stopping saves watts (and allows you to get home with higher average speeds for that all-important Strava download). It also gets you through most intersections more quickly and given how much more often so many of my friends are hit in intersections, I can’t blame anyone for wanting to get away quickly.

The other piece of the equation that I think could be helpful is how it might—and I’m only saying might—change a certain amount of cyclist behavior. Around my home, the ticket for running a stop sign isn’t cheap, but if no one’s around I and my friends tend to give them a slow roll on early morning rides. We essentially treat them as stop-as-yield. We see our behavior as victimless crime. However, in the afternoons, when many more police are out and enforcement much higher, I make sure to stop. Tickets for running a stop light in the nearby towns are crazy expensive. The cheap ones are $371. But I see many riders run lights with the same nonchalance that they possess as they cruise through stop signs. I’d like to think that if there was a more significant delineation (not that the existing one is insufficient) between stop signs and stop lights, some riders might stop running lights, or doing that half-assed, right turn followed by a U-turn followed by another right turn. They aren’t fooling anyone.

That’s the thing: The biggest gain I see here is that by decriminalizing our most frequent infraction, maybe we’d clean up some of our other behavior. Maybe we’d seem like something other than total scoff-laws. I see loads of drivers make exasperated gestures at cyclists who run through intersections when they’ve got anything but the right-of-way. It’s clear their frustration with us paints with a large brush. In talking with non-cyclists who have seen our behavior I’ve heard many times that the conclusion they draw more often than not isn’t, “See that cyclist skirt the laws! That low-down no-good biker!” No, it’s, “Cyclists—all cyclists—suck ass.”

We’re all guilty of a single rider’s infractions. And so each driver who witnesses a rider blowing through an intersection without obeying a law decides we’re all the same and guilty of flouting traffic laws. I’ve come to a stop at many an intersection only to have some rider come up from behind me and just ride through. The other drivers present invariably look at me and wait for me to do the same thing. Their clenched teeth and glares say it all. And so I wait, extra long.

So there you have it. I believe that stop-as-yield has the ability to make our lives as cyclists easier. It is also my hope that if our towns threw us a bone with stop-as-yield, that if we responded by better obeying stop lights, our stock as respectable citizens would rise. It’s hard to chart just how this would manifest, but I don’t think it’s a stretch to imagine that drivers might be more courteous and police might show us more consideration in the event of some sort of accident. Just passing another law that gives regard to cyclists could do a lot to remind the populace that we have a real right to the road.

It seems like a great idea that just needs a million-dollar-per-municipality marketing effort and some really smart cycling advocates in order to become law.

Counterpoint: It’s those “clenched teeth and glares” that I respond to, as well, Padraig. Where we have a fundamental disagreement is what a change in the law would do to change drivers’ attitudes. I’m not sure abolishing certain regulations which scoff-laws commonly ignore is the way to engender respect for the law. I do, however, suspect that it will do a lot to piss off those who have to follow the rules, no matter what.

We can trace the roots of the idea to a law passed by the Idaho legislature in 1982 (Idaho Code: Title 49, chapter 7). Since then, similar efforts in other states have met with mixed results.

Idaho is a state much like Wyoming, where I live, and quite unlike the growing urban/suburban environs of Padraig’s home in Southern California. Nonetheless, we do have similarly laid-out streets here in Laramie, usually presenting cyclists (and motorists) with a stop sign every two blocks in low-traffic neighborhoods.

Idaho’s pioneering statute allows:

A person operating a bicycle or human-powered vehicle approaching a stop sign shall slow down and, if required for safety, stop before entering the intersection. After slowing to a reasonable speed or stopping, the person shall yield the right-of-way to any vehicle in the intersection or approaching on another highway so closely as to constitute an immediate hazard during the time the person is moving across or within the intersection or junction of highways, except that a person after slowing to a reasonable speed and yielding the right-of-way if required, may cautiously make a turn or proceed through the intersection without stopping.

Furthermore, Idaho also allows something that makes me even less comfortable:

A person operating a bicycle or human-powered vehicle approaching a steady red traffic control light shall stop before entering the intersection and shall yield to all other traffic. Once the person has yielded, he may proceed through the steady red light with caution. Provided however, that a person after slowing to a reasonable speed and yielding the right-of-way if required, may cautiously make a right-hand turn. A left-hand turn onto a one-way highway may be made on a red light after stopping and yielding to other traffic.

Yup, not only does Idaho allow stop-as-yield, it allows for red-light-as-stop-sign.

I must confess. I do often “roll through” stop signs on my way to work or on my way out of town for a long stop-sign-free ride on the open roads that are quite common here in “big empty” of the Rocky Mountain West. I am, by definition therefore, a scoff-law at times. Frankly, I like the idea of not having to stop at an empty intersection and, I have to admit, I’ll probably keep up the practice, especially on those early summer morning days, when the only car you tend to see belongs to the guy delivering the morning paper.

In my younger—and considerably cockier—racing days, I probably did more than that, riding up to intersections at full speed, quickly casting a glance left, then right, and blowing through as if mine were the only vehicle on the road. I had a few close calls and I count my lucky stars that I am still around. I was not a model cyclist. I was the cause of many a clenched jaw, icy stares and, of course, a large number of extended single digits.

My point is that I am not claiming to speak from the moral high-ground here. I was not “Captain Safety” at times, although I do try to be a responsible cyclist now that I am older and a parent. My opposition to stop-as-yield (and its more dangerous cousin “Red-light-as-stop-sign”) is based on pragmatism. I am simply concerned about the perception that cyclists try to impose a double standard, embracing the claim that we have the same rights as motorized vehicles when it is convenient and calling for separate rules when it is not.

Cycling advocates have fought long and hard for our two-wheeled brethren to be afforded the same rights as any other vehicle on a public street. While that battle is far from over, with the right to use the road comes the duty to abide by the same rules. Same rights, same responsibilities.

Surveys around the planet confirm that motorists view cyclists with, at minimum, a degree of concern and, at worst, outright hostility. Part of that is rooted in the unpredictability of some riders’ use of the road. Another part of it, is that drivers—rightly or wrongly—see cyclists as willing to ignore applicable traffic rules when those rules are inconvenient.

I avoid the use of the term “traffic laws” because Padraig and those that agree with him are taking the correct approach and hoping to modify existing law in order to accommodate that double standard. My problem is that it would remain, even after a revision in the law, a double standard.

Padraig’s idea of “a million-dollar-per-municipality marketing effort” aside, the post-modification perception of cyclists-as-scofflaws would remain. Aside from the particularly interested segment of the community—in this case, we cyclists—getting the word out to drivers would be a formidable task.

I am much more comfortable with the idea that many “reasonable” cyclists regularly glide through an empty intersection in violation of the “letter” of the law, than to have a host of less-than-reasonable cyclists hold on to what they believe the “spirit” of the law might be and habitually blow through intersections while asserting their “right” to do so.

My nightmare is the thought of herds of urban-fixie-hipster types rolling through intersections screaming “bicycle rights! Bicycle Rights!” further alienating the public and virtually erasing any progress we’ve made over the past decades. That damage would take far more than “a million-dollar-per-municipality marketing effort” to repair.

… and what about the children?
As a parent, my kids grew up calling me “the helmet Nazi,” knowing that before either of them swung a leg over a top-tube, they damn well better have a helmet on top of their heads. I furthermore demanded that they fully comply with the rules of the road, riding as far to the right as is reasonably safe and that they come to a complete stop at lights and stop signs.

I quite frankly fear for parents whose children get that mixed message that it’s sometimes OK to slide through a stop sign. The stop-as-yield requires a degree of judgment – and visual range – that may be beyond the abilities of a typical nine-year-old. So what do we do there? Is it worth incorporating an exception to the new rule for those below a given age? In an environment with bigger cars and trucks, often operated by drivers with shorter attention spans, I shudder at the thought.

Admittedly, my worst-case thinking hasn’t proven to be true in the great state of Idaho. With nearly 30 years of data now available, there hasn’t been a measurable change in the number or character of bike-related injuries or fatalities since the 1982 passage of the law. I’m not so sure we could expect the same result in a more densely populated environment like Patrick’s home in SoCal.

Finally, I have to address the “energy savings” argument Padraig and others have raised.

Really?

First, I’d always believed that the primary reason we enjoy the bike and the ride was to do just that: burn calories and use up wattage. I am not too sure that maintaining a higher average speed to download into your on-line training diary is necessarily worth even the slightest compromise in safety. Nor is it worth risking a further division between cyclists and motorists, who already see cyclists as an annoyance.

Indeed, the whole energy savings argument might actually be the basis for a similar proposal to be made on behalf of drivers. Think of the carbon savings if we allowed cars not to come to a complete stop at stop signs. Legalizing the so-called “California stop” for automobiles makes about as much sense to me as does legalizing the “Idaho stop” for cyclists. In both cases, I don’t buy it.

I am an advocate of the “Share the Damn Road” approach to cycling. With that in mind, I think we ought to “Share the Damn Duties,” too.
Charles 

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43 comments

  1. Former shepherd

    If stop signs were roundabouts, we and the cars would be free to do exactly as CP suggests. In the little PA town that is the home of Bicycling Magazine almost no one, human or machine powered, stops at stop signs. Therefore, motorists as a group are not really entitled to yell at us. However, it’s not the group who’s yelling. It’s one person. Does he or she stop all the time? If it’s anger at cyclists generally it probably doesn’t matter.

    I like roundabouts for everybody. Then the people of the “land of the rolling stop” would all be compliant & traffic would move morre smoothly.

  2. PeterLeach

    I think I’m more with Charles on this one – share the road, share the responsibility.
    That said, on my regular rides I face several places breaking the road rules in almost unavoidable – turns at lights where the in-road sensors don’t register my bike, others where it’s just really frustrating – bike lanes on the ‘through route’ at T junctions. I apply the ‘naughty, naughty’ rule – slow to just rolling, call: “Naughty, naughty!” and go through.
    Still illegal, more convenient, but always reminds me of what I am doing.

  3. Mike

    I stop at all lights/signs … even when others with whom I ride keep riding through (often at great risk of injury or ticket). This simply provides me interval training as I sprint to catch back on. My concern with stop-as-yield or red-light-as-stop-sign is that more bike related accidents will occur as cyclists take license with yielding. Many already do not follow the law … and allowing them more freedom will mean they simply will not look and ride through (not even yielding) … give them an inch and they will take a mile. While I would like to say that most of the people I have ridden with over the course of the last 30 years are sensible when it comes to cycling safely, too many (dare I say “most”?) hold/have held the view that they have the right-of-way simply because they exist and are on their bikes … this attitude, with a stop-as-yield or red-light-as-stop-sign, could prove to be dangerous.

  4. John in Miami

    I tend to agree with Charles’ position more than Padraig’s even tho, as he, I live in a denser, more urbanized setting and behave more like Padraig when riding. I also think that Mike’s statement…. “allowing them more freedom will mean they simply will not look and ride through” is 100% spot on.

    One further note and I witness this with some in my riding group… is that if the group slows down to a near stop to survey an intersection before proceeding and one clown barrels thru barely slowing down, someone with less experience in group riding or someone sprinting to catch back on with a group will follow that person not knowing for certain what the traffic is like. In that situation, the risk of a serious accident to the 2nd rider thru increases greatly.

    1. Padraig

      Everyone: Thanks for your comments. Charles makes a compelling case, eh? I have a few responses to what he wrote; first, I’m really not in favor of the stop light-as-stop sign. It strikes me as a bridge too far and just too fraught with potential for bad things. This may strike people as inconsistent, but it’s where I land. To Charles’ retort about not wanting to stop and higher average speeds, the Strava crack was really just a joke, but I really do get fed up with stopping so much. Starting over and over and over wears me out. If there’s a better term to use than “traffic laws” I’m good with that, though I think that phrase underscores Charles’ point that cyclists ARE traffic.

      I’ll say that roundabouts are probably the smartest solution, but even less likely to happen than stop-as-yield. Now, to the point raised by Mike and echoed by John, let’s suppose my local municipality gave stop-as-yield a trial run. And let’s suppose that most of the local riders treated it as a chance to treat stop signs-as-green lights. I’d be all for canceling the trial instantly. It may well be that my desire is just too idealistic to work in most places. Compromise is rarely the most successful approach in the ole U.S. of A.

      Finally, it occurs to me that there may be one point of circumstance that informs the difference of opinion Charles and I have. While we need to hear from our esteemed colleague to know for sure, it sounds like gently rolling stop signs in his Rocky Mountain home—when done with a modicum of intelligence—is relatively risk-free. Where I live, there’s a fair amount of enforcement, except for every spring (around now, in fact) when enforcement is stepped up dramatically. Most of my friends have picked up at least one very expensive ticket, if not a few. That I haven’t gotten one of those tickets suggests that difference of behavior between me and my riding buddies may render my opinion too far out of the mainstream to be anything but irrelevant.

      I knew this was coming, but I’ll go ahead and state the obvious: Charles FTW.

  5. Kevin

    Having lived in Seattle in the past and currently living in Boise, I generally like stop as yield and think that it makes for safer traffic regardless of locale. If I have a car behind me coming up to a stop sign (and they don’t pull the ever-enjoyable “I think I can pass before the sign but not really so now I’m in oncoming traffic at the intersection” move) I see two scenarios:

    1. I come to a gentle stop, dropping to 10, 8, 6, 4, 2 MPH then finally stop and get back up to speed slowly because I don’t feel like sprinting after every stop. Driver is stuck behind me for too long for their taste and gets pissed at me for getting in the way.

    2. I slow to 10 or so MPH, the intersection is clear, I ride through. Driver is pissed because they stopped and I didn’t.

    I’m the problem in the driver’s eyes in both scenarios. In the first, though, traffic is faster and smoother, especially as the number of cyclists goes up. Since I’ve had many drivers say that they hate how cyclists slow everything down, I think anything that keeps their speed up would be fine by them.

    I will also second the view that motorists don’t have a leg to stand on (as a group) to complain about cyclists only following the rules thy want and ignoring those that aren’t convenient. Pretty much every car speeds. How is that different? In Boise, I can’t tell you the number of cars that go through a light after it turns red. There are often 2 or 3 who sneak through well after the light changes. Somehow that is totally accepted around here.

    On to stop light as stop sign: excellent in Boise (and probably similar sized cities), bad idea in Seattle. In Seattle, there’s always enough traffic that you’re just asking for trouble. Also, essentially every light in Seattle is on a timer. If you wait long enough, you’ll get green. In Boise, I don’t trigger the sensors. I could wait at a light forever without getting green if a car doesn’t come along to help. That’s true even on the major bike commuting corridors. It’s nice to know I’m within my rights to not have to sit there waiting for that helping hand. Ultimately, the biggest effect of this law is that I (legally) get a jump on traffic when the light is getting ready to turn green. That gets me out of the way of right turners and into the relative safety of the bike lane on the other side of the intersection.

    My last point, then I’ll clear out of the way: regarding Padraig’s point of expensive ad campaigns – not our problem. I don’t mean to be an ass, but it’s the responsibility of every road user to know the rules of the road. If they don’t know that what I do is legal (and, I will point out, safe – I don’t take risks) that’s their fault. There are motorists who will hate us regardless of the law – see my two scenarios above. I’d rather that money go to nice bike lanes, personally.

  6. Alex

    The reason I am okay with using a stop sign as yield (and, to a lesser degree and only circumstantially, a stop light as stop sign) is that the physics of your sensory input as you approach an intersection differ between bikes and cars. Rolling towards a stop sign at a low speed, there is no enclosed cab to muffle the sound of oncoming traffic; there are no blind spots; and my eyes are at most two feet behind the leading edge of my vehicle. By the time I’m close enough to judge whether or not it’s safe to go, I’m still able to stop if necessary. In a car, with very few exceptions, by the time you’re close enough to see down the intersecting street at a useful angle, you’re nearly in the intersection. Those five or so feet of hood and steering column in front of your eyeballs do matter.

    Also, the specter of cocky cyclists flaunting the new laws seems like kind of a strawman. I think the issue is disregard for the law, not a willful push a certain distance beyond it; they don’t play by the rules, so why should they care if the rules change? Besides, if you run a yield and get hit by oncoming traffic that has the right of way, you are just as at fault as you’d be if it were a stop. I’m not saying there would be zero change in the behavior of the lunatic fringe, but I’d expect that, on the whole, the change would be fairly negligible.

  7. Rich Wilson

    If we’re handing out passes to roll through empty stop-sign-intersections, I’d rather give them to the cars. More mass to get rolling again, more C02 to spit out.

  8. Jay

    Well, I’m conflicted. As an Idaho cyclist, I ride in accordance with Idaho law. No problems in the past four years, even on group rides where some riders bend even this bike-friendly law. But, I have to agree with my friend, Charles, even though the only time I had a head-to-windshield encounter with a car was at a stop light in Laramie (driver making a left-hand turn at fault; insurance settlement for a new titanium bike). Maybe the wide open spaces just make people a bit more tolerant out here.

  9. Steve Cropley

    I live on the Montana – Wyoming border, here in Sheridan WY, the same state as Charles Pelkey. I am a few years older than Charles and generally ride in an even less dense area than Charles.

    I have ridden all over this country, Scotland, China & Korea. I have ridden roundabouts as well as regular intersections. I slow at lights and stop if there is traffic coming. No one wants to wait on a cyclist to get started at a light, so I get across and out of the traffic as soon as possible.

    Roundabouts are definitely better for cars than standard intersections. I ride roundabouts in Billings MT and have ridden them in Scotland. If there is traffic, for myself as a cyclist, a roundabout don’t feel any safer than a standard intersection.

    As to teaching the children: As a kid, my Dad would grab my hand and we ran across the street on red, as soon as it was safe. I asked him why and he said, he would rather be a moving target than a sitting duck. The lesson I learned was that we are responsible for our own safety. I take that to heart when I am behind the wheel, riding my bike and walking.

    Prohibition was a noble idea, but didn’t work because more people broke the law, which in theory led people to seeing laws as “bendable.” Stop as Yield would be the same as repealing Prohibition. And as Idaho’s data has shown, it would be just as safe.

    Steve Cropley, Sheridan Wyoming

  10. Chris

    I think a huge part of the issue is that municipalities, over maybe the last 20 years or so and increasingly, use 4-way stop signs not to make safer intersections, but to control traffic speed through neighborhoods. These are the every-two-blocks stops signs Pelkey references, and I routinely run them. Rather than advocate for a change in the law I’d rather advocate that speed bumps be used as appropriate for speed control and that stop signs be reserved for intersection safety.

  11. Cassandra

    All valid arguments and make for an interesting read. Thanks.

    But, with regards to disregarding the momentum argument, may I suggest that perhaps you’re arguing from a slightly elitist position? As a recreational, wannabe racer road cyclist, stopping at stop signs and getting the extra training from the occasional stop sign is a small detriment to my overall experience.

    On the other hand, as an everyday commuter, stopping for every stop sign that can appear as often as every other block is more than just an irritation–it keeps many from riding. And as the rider from Idaho states, if I roll the stop sign I keep traffic moving; if I stop, I slow traffic more as my commuter does not do 0 to 20 in 0.5 seconds. The more I impede traffic flow (or appear to), the higher the probability that cars pass dangerously, hook, etc.

    Stop-As-Yield is a commuter/utility cyclist argument. They are the cyclists that interact most with traffic; they are the cyclists that would most benefit from the law. Please don’t discount these riders — they aren’t in a racing class, but they are still our brethren.

  12. Bo L

    “But because there are a couple of places (yeah, I think exactly two) where cyclists are allowed to treat a stop sign as a yield if no other traffic is present seems a genius idea.” – Padraig

    Like a falling tree in the forest making sound, the stop-as-yield law won’t have any effect on rolling a sign where there is nobody around.

    “I’ve come to a stop at many an intersection only to have some rider come up from behind me and just ride through. The other drivers present invariably look at me and wait for me to do the same thing. Their clenched teeth and glares say it all.” -Padraig

    How would this scenario change with a stop-as-yield law? The other cyclist still broke the law and you were still lumped into the same group as him by other road users.

    “That’s the thing: The biggest gain I see here is that by decriminalizing our most frequent infraction, maybe we’d clean up some of our other behavior.” -Padraig

    This is like arguing for the removal of speed limits for motor vehicles. I can’t follow this logic.

  13. PonyCarz

    The solution to this problem is simple: Only allow bikes on roads during periods of low density motorized vehicular traffic– i.e., say between 4:00a and 6:00a on Sundays. Then you bikers can run all of the stop signs and traffic lights that you want. It seems to me that this notion of bikes being the equivalent of motorized vehicles is about as antiquated as the buggy whip. This is not 1890 and regardless of what the statutes may say, roads today are meant for cars and trucks– not bikes. I’ve got no problem with bikers pedaling where there are wide shoulders, say 10 feet to the right of the white line. But, otherwise, they pose an unnecessary danger to motorists and themselves. I’ve debated many bikers over the years about this issue. Invariably, when I ask them where they are going the civil ones (about 1 out of every 10) tell me that they are just out riding their bikes for fun. For fun? Really? You are willing to inconvenience dozens of other people and possibly risk life and limb for “fun”? This just makes no sense to me and thousands of other motorists for whom the roads were designed. I say keep bikes off all roads where there is no wide shoulder. There are many other more sensible options– bike paths, fire roads, trails, etc.– where the fun can be had without the danger. Meanwhile, if the law says that you are supposed to Stop then, by God, you had better Stop!

  14. John Kopp

    Not stopping at stop signs or red lights is a really bad idea and dangerous. About the time this discussion was proposed, a cyclist in San Francisco ran a red light and killed a pedestrian in the cross walk. This was published in the March 30 San Francisco Chronicle and below are web site articles reporting the accident and follow up items.
    http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2012/04/07/EDDS1O008P.DTL
    http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2012/04/07/EDDS1O008P.DTL
    http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2012/04/14/BAUP1O315L.DTL
    http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2012/04/11/BA8B1O1H44.DTL

    One article also mentions an earlier fatality which the cyclist involved was sentenced for.

    I always stop for stop signs, but sometimes without taking my foot off the petal. It’s not just about motorists, but pedestrians also. So I have to agree with Charles.

  15. Steve Bauer

    Every pastime inconveniences someone…watching sports inconveniences your spouse (and society I might add given the medical costs of a sedintary lifestyle) hunting inconveniences your neighbors, running inconveniences rollerbladers, rollerblading inconveniences cyclists, swimming inconveniences surfers. Snowboarding and skiing inconvenience each other. That does not even get into the question of where you are going in your car? To the basketball court to enjoy your pastime? Is it anywhere all that cosmically significant? Most times not, and the CO2 you are emitting and gridlock you are contributing to inconveniences everyone. But that is exactly the point of the social compact, we are all required to accept minor inconveniences as a condition of living in a community. The consequence of refusing to acknowledge that compact is to accept that someone bigger and stronger than you, politically or physically has the right to take your rights away.

  16. Steve

    No man madeobeys law will change how cars and cyclists feel about each other. Cyclists will do what they do and cars will do what they do. Its not like cars like cars…everybody is a bad driver. Best thing we can do is watch our back and respect the laws of physics.

  17. Kyle

    I was thinking about this exact topic on my ride yesterday while approaching a series of 4-way intersections. I had no idea about Idaho’s traffic law!

    I stop at almost all stop signs these days because I have paid that SoCal ticket, and stopping is the easiest way to ensure I never have to pay it again. I say almost all because I believe there are certain situations when an intersection can be rolled without causing harm. You just have to watch out for the quota-filling traffic cop lurking on the cross street, or behind you!

    Plenty of comments here express ideas that had not crossed my feeble mind. However, one thought that did occur to me is – I think “yielding” on the road is too much of a challenge for some folks, either behind the wheel or pedaling one. It’s a concept related to courtesy, and that seems increasingly hard to find in our busy world. For example look no further than the comment “regardless of what the statutes may say, roads today are meant for cars and trucks– not bikes.”

  18. Paul Matlin

    In response to PonyCarz, allow me to indulge in a bit of reductio ad absurdum and let’s take his dictum concerning when cyclists should be allowed on the road a step further.

    Since it is well known that smaller cars present a greater risk to the drivers and those around them when such cars are driven on highways and involved in crashes, let’s further stipulate that any car that weighs less than 2 tons (4,000 pounds) should not be allowed on any road where the posted speed limit is 40 mph or greater. This would make for greater safety on the highways since higher speed roads would be populated by vehicles similar to the Honda Pilot or larger.

    In fact, let’s take it one step further, recognizing that trucking is critical to the economy of this country and ban all non-commercial vehicle traffic from roads with speed limits over 50 mph, thus reserving the interstate highways for the most needed traffic.

    So, we end up with neighborhood streets populated by compact and sub-compacts; state roads populated medium-size vehicles (SUV’s, mini-vans, etc.); and the interstates populated by commercial traffic.

    How’s that work for you, PonyCarz? Hope you don’t need an interstate for your daily commute.

  19. Derek

    In response to John Kopp, The guys Strava data shows he was going 35mph in that intersection, hardly a yield situation. Stupid or oblivious people are always a hazard no matter what the law. Be aware, protect yourself at all times.
    PonyCarz, really?

  20. PonyCarz

    @Charles Pelkey– What exactly do you find to be “Classic”? The laws allowing bikes on busy roads without wide shoulders are in defiance of common sense and reality and should be repealed. The laws that say Stop at a Stop sign make perfect sense and should be obeyed by all vehicles on the road. This applies to bikes as well– until they are properly outlawed from being on those roads in the first place. Again, there are other options for you to have your fun, including miles and miles of low-traffic country roads with hardly any Stops. If these are not “convenient” to your locale…well, tough. You can always move. Just as someone who loves alpine skiing would not live in Florida, neither should a biker live where there are no suitable roads for practicing their hobby on a regular basis.
    @Steve Bauer– it’s true that there are inconveniences and costs of various forms associated with nearly any pastime. However, none of the examples you cite carry quite the dire circumstances and potential finality of a biker being struck by a motor vehicle.
    @Paul Matlin– Thank you for making my argument for me. Certain types of small, low-horsepower cars SHOULD be banned from the Interstates for the same reason that bikes don’t belong on busy roads– they are a danger to others and themselves because they impede the normal flow of traffic. Flipping your “absurdum” around just a bit: If bikes are vehicles on equal footing with cars then why are they banned from Interstates? And, BTW, I don’t need and Interstate for my commute which is 20 minutes by bus.

  21. Steve Bauer

    I cant agree. Far more people die of heart disease and obesity associated with our TV addled culture. than in bike accidents. Far more people die in car vs car accidents when they are driving to enjoy their own particular pastime. Far more children like my daughter are hospitalized from asthma caused by vehicle emissions than bike accidents. The societal costs of reliance on fossil fuels for transportation are staggering. My ride to work does my neighbor’s and me far more good than harm.

    This is not to say it is anyone’s right to be rude as most of the cyclists on this site have commented. I don’t take car’s right of way and trust that while the laws remain as they are, that they don’t take mine. The same trust that let’s me on occasion get in a car.

  22. Winky

    Here in Vancouver NOBODY, not cars, not bikes stops at stop signs unless they have to in order to avoid a collision. I mean NOBODY. I have NEVER seen a car nor a bike stop. I commute daily on a route that has many stop signs, and have done so for 5 years. I have yet to se a single car or bike (NOT ONE) come to a complete stop, other than to avoid collision. This debate is moot, as EVERYONE already treats stops-signs as yields.

  23. Kevin

    I’ll stay off the roads, Ponycarz, as soon as you get every city and town to put in separate parallel paths for every single road. I have just as much if a right to get to my job, the grocery store, my friends’ houses, etc as you do. Maybe I can’t afford a car and ride my bike to get around. Maybe when I’m out for fun I’m trying to get to those low traffic roads and need to ride through the city. You don’t know everyone’s motivation.

  24. elSid

    Ponycar,

    You’re arguing that your purpose/justification/reason for using a road is more important that that of another person. Yet you have taken the time to find a website related to a sport you admit to not understanding, and tell the enthusiasts that their activity isn’t worthy.

    Maybe you do have time to slow down and wait once in a while.

  25. Jack Bulkley

    When driving your car try a little experiment. Come to a complete stop at every stop sign. At least where I live which is semi-rural, there are lots of places where cars don’t completely stop when there is no oncoming traffic. If you stop in front of them, it catches them unaware and they almost run into the back of you.

    So I think all road users treat stop signs as yield in some cases. I think it seems more noticeable when bikes do it because the slow speed of rolling through the stop sign is so much closer to their travel speed than it is for a car.

  26. Tom

    Give’em an inch, and they’ll take a mile.

    Sorry, Padraig. Can’t go with you on this one.

    Charles is right. It’s dangerous and will just infuriate everyone. I’d rather roll’em on an easy morning and stop on the way home. I’m a bike commuter and that’s what I do.

    I also make sure not to blast through. I know too many people that’ve been hit. Fortunately, I don’t know anyone who’s been killed – yet.

  27. Bikelink

    +1 Kevin, agree with a lot of what you said.

    Ponycarz…many of those cars are going to recreational activities…jeez that’s just one of many counterarguments to what you’re posting. I’d also suggest that “common sense” perspectives are different depending on your perspective here. Most cyclists drive cars…most car drivers don’t cycle..who probably has the more balanced perspective :-)

    All: I think everyone (including Ponycarz) would agree that the flagrant crazy-dangerous behavior of bombing through an intersection, or going the wrong way down a road is dangerous, makes others mad, and enforcement should be stepped up. Just like the police prioritize more dangerous crimes over less dangerous crimes (at least in cities such as mine where there will never be enough police to enforce all laws), which can’t there be much stepped up enforcement of the flagrant dangerous behavior? If Padraig slows, looks, and eases through an intersection safely without putting a foot down, fine. If someone blows through at 30 mph, then give them a big ticket. I think stepped up enforcement of flagrant offenses would be good for us (cyclists)…the rolling stop is a much smaller side issue, whether legalized or not.

  28. Scot

    To me it is an issue of if we want respect from motorists, i.e. 3 feet to pass, etc., then we need to show some respect. I slowed down at a 3 way intersection where cars were stopped in the other lanes. A rider just in front of me blew through the intersection at top speed. I stopped- the motorists looked at me and I just shook my head and mouthed “sorry”. I am far from a stringent law abider, but we do need to do our part.

  29. Cat4Fodder

    With Scot on this one….need to give a little to get a little. The only exception to the rule is when there is a clear, demonstrative indication that a a traffic light will not recognize the cyclist, as it is sensor driven (think green-arrows or when you are on a side-street crossing a major route).

    Only in those situations do I think it okay to violate the rules. Other than that, granting cyclists some exulted status is only going to anger the larger driving community at large.

  30. Bongo

    I always stop at lights and almost never at stop signs. Depending on the visibility I will slow to a speed where I can stop if I need to. I’ll be honest I did not read all of the comments so someone may have already mentioned this, but one of the reasons I do not stop for stop sighs is that many drivers are not expecting me to do so. I’m more concerned with a driver behind me not realizing that I’m stopped and running into me. I have had a couple of close calls when I did stop at stop signs due to oncoming traffic.

    I would love a stop as yield law.

  31. Idaho rider

    As an engineer, I think it’s kind of funny that there’s so much concern as to the ‘safety’ of this proposal. This idea may sound crazy to some people, but the state of Idaho has 30 years of data – 30 years! I think that’s enough to draw a general conclusion: There is no increase in accidents. So we don’t have to rely on pure speculation, we can look at this long-running experiment for guidance.

    We can come up with crazy situations that sound dangerous… well of course you can. But the law says to come to a reasonable speed or stop. The folks I ride with do this and it really is no problem. And almost everybody on this post agrees that most people do this. Why? Because it is a very natural way to ride.

    Bikes are not the same as cars, we don’t have a motor. So I don’t find it unreasonable to have the laws fit the vehicle. There will always be some motorists who hate bikes so just slowing them down more at stop signs isn’t really helping with the ‘image’ problem.

    Finally, if you are a racer, then the extra effort to start rolling from every stop is a great training device. But for the many people who don’t ride competitively, this may be enough to sour them on commuting.

    From my experience, this just works. When I vacation and ride in other states, it is really hard to stop at every stop sign, and I really appreciate my local rides when I get home!

    1. Padraig

      It’s been interesting reading all the comments on this. Idaho rider’s observation that stop-as-yield works fine in Idaho aside, it’s clear that most folks simply aren’t in favor of it. And that’s just fine.

      What cracks me up are the riders who think stopping for stop signs is great training. It’s not; it does nothing for your ability to ride at speed. Similarly, it does nothing for your ability to accelerate at speed (such as when you attack from a group) because of the vast difference in cadence. It’s just really handy for being faster at … a standing start. With stop signs often every block in some neighborhoods where I live, maybe what I should do is consider taking up the kilo.

  32. Full Monte

    For practical purposes, Kevin sums it up:

    1. I come to a gentle stop, dropping to 10, 8, 6, 4, 2 MPH then finally stop. Driver is stuck behind me for too long for their taste and gets pissed at me for getting in the way.

    2. I slow to 10 or so MPH, the intersection is clear, I ride through. Driver is pissed because they stopped and I didn’t.

    In the eyes of the bike-hating motorist, you’re Damned If You Do, and you’re Damned If You Don’t.

    We can look at the cyclist-stopping argument in pragmatic/practical or public relations terms.

    Either way, haters go’n hate.

    The rule I try apply in every situation: What can I do to get myself outta these motorists’ path the fastest/safest way? Cuz in the end, that’s all they want. To put me in their rearview mirror and forget I ever existed.

  33. Rich

    Would it be ok to ban some commenters (with out naming names) to keep this civil. The increasing popularity of this site has had some down sides. This is a pro cycling site after all.
    On the other side I guess they remind us what we are up against

    1. Padraig

      Rich: While I’m not wild about comments that tend toward testy, by and large everyone has remained civil. I have put two readers in moderation jail (meaning I have to read their comments before anyone else gets to see them) but I have yet to ban anyone outright. Making sure RKP remains the constructive space for conversation that it is has required a great deal of reading and responding, but the effort has been completely worthwhile. It’s apparent from the way the conversations evolve that you, the readers, want it that way. For that, I’m grateful.

  34. Rich

    Padraig, I am not the most knowledgeable on training but I would think that starting from a stop would be similar to doing Squats or lunges. Both of which build leg strength. Might be good for getting over short
    rollers. Not a reason to stop but no harm either.

  35. gmknobl

    Here’s my issue with stop signs, and I don’t see this in the article at all, which considering how experienced you are is a bit surprising. Stopping it is more dangerous for bikes than yielding. I’ll state flat our that the most dangerous times in a ride are those where you must stop and start. Crowding from others and vehicles is dangerous too and the danger can be quite catastrophic. But considering that when you stop your balance is gone and you must engage in a controlled fall, it is much more dangerous to actually stop than yield because your balance comes to an end (unless you’re very good at track stands). This may seem silly to some but from first hand experience and from many, many years of observation with small and large groups (think Ragbrai for large, your local club ride for small), I know that when we stop and start there are more mishaps even if they are minor. In fact, it seems that slow motion falls may account for more real moderate to sever injuries than rolling injuries. I don’t know the stats for that though.

    Now, if you buy my argument that falling over is more likely when you stop, then throw in doing this on a street with other cars, your danger now increases even more. When no one is around you can get hurt quite badly, but if you get hurt quite badly and a car is moving near you, now your chances for serious injury increase yet again.

    This applies to any stop, whether a silly stop-that-should-be-yield sign, a reasonable stop sign at a big intersection or a red light at a busy thoroughfare. I don’t quite go for turning left onto a multi-lane road if the conditions are anything but startlingly clear in all directions but at the very least, yield for stop or red makes a whole lot of sense for bikes even when it doesn’t for cars.

    As for children, I think the normal rule about doing anything should be applied. Teach them the rules first, in our case, rules of the road as they are in local traffic law, THEN, when you are sure they understand and have internalized the rules, teach them when it is okay to bend or break them. Whether someone admits this or not, this makes sense to all but ultra-conservative hardliners wrt “the law.” There are places where not following the law makes sense, whether it’s to be safe or some emergency.

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